Planting the seeds for future harvests
An initial drawing from my Black Sheep Acres sketchbook
After a long (but warm) winter, Trouser House is pleased to announce the next iteration of the project, including an expanded farming initiative and an imminent gallery and education space on St. Claude and Independence Avenues in the Bywater.
Since closing the gallery and urban farm on St. Claude and Mazant last December, the Trouser House team has been working with a fine group of patrons and artists to develop the next steps for the project. I am thrilled to announce the organization is growing by leaps and bounds, and will launch new art, farming, and education initiatives over the course of the next twelve months. I have to warn you, I can be a bit long-winded, so pour a cup of coffee and curl up with your cat (or soft spring chick) before you read this letter.
Farming, Art, and the Homestead
Black Sheep Cabin
In December, James and I journeyed 90 miles north to visit a ten-acre plot in Magnolia, Mississippi. The property is owned by Trouser House patrons Mary Ellen Burns and Christopher Brown and includes 10 acres of piney woods, a quaint cabin, and an endless sense of possibility. After walking the trails and seeing the space, we knew this was a place where we could imagine, grow, and build. Enlivened by the fresh country air, we returned to New Orleans and immediately called a meeting of fellow Trouser Housians. After spending time at this retreat and enjoying countless homemade meals at the Brown-Burns home (especially Mary Ellen’s Asian-style grilled shrimp with fresh key lime marinade), we formulated the conceptual basis for the project and began to lay the framework for implementing our ideas at the newly formed Black Sheep Acres, a sister project of Trouser House.
The impetus for Black Sheep Acres is rooted in the benefit of the rural retreat. Through the act and space of retreat, Black Sheep Acres will provide visitors with a space—both physical and mental—in which participants can investigate and experience new forms of creative expression. The retreat is not an abandonment of social challenges, political opposition, or cultural dead ends, but a temporary condition that will provide the mental clarity required for the generation and sharing of new ideas.
The Road Less Traveled…Black Sheep Acres Entrance
Currently, Black Sheep Acres is home to a motley crew of visual artists, designers, chefs, chickens, growers, a dog, and Scratch the bunny. Over the past five months, we have collectively scrubbed, sorted, and cleared the property, preparing the space for upcoming events, festivals, farming initiatives, and residency opportunities. While we build, you can follow the progress of Black Sheep Acres on the Black Sheep Acres flickr page, and by checking the Black Sheep Acres website.
Ultimately, Black Sheep Acres will engage in an ongoing dialogue with Trouser House in the city, resulting in an unparalleled urban-rural exchange. So, what about the city? Well, I’m about to tell you, so pour another cup and fluff your feathers.
Art in the Bywater
On a sunny January day, I met real estate developer Maurice Slaughter and his brother Jimmy at Elizabeth’s restaurant on the levy. Maurice, a broad-smiled fellow, casually carried the conversation, talking about his work with St. Claude Main Street, the importance of holistic community development, and how much he loves the creole mustard sauce that comes with Elizabeth’s signature Boudin balls. I was particularly impressed by his ideas for the development of St. Claude Avenue and how he explained his commitment to creating a space that is vibrant, safe, and filled with art. After lunch, we traveled a few short blocks to Maurice’s home, which is tucked in among several other properties he has renovated. While there, we talked about his relationship with New Orleans, and how he and his wife fell in love with the place over 15 years ago when they began restoring homes in the Bywater. I also met his right-hand-man, John Andrews, who has restored several of Maurice’s properties. Even though it was our first meeting–and I had not even seen the inside of the future Trouser House–on that day, I knew that I would work with Maurice to develop the new Trouser House gallery space.
The future of Trouser House at St. Claude and Independence Avenues
Fast forward a few months to today where renovation is slated to begin at the new gallery space on St. Claude and Independence Avenues. The restoration project is ambitious and carries an extensive schedule which will unfold over the course of the summer and fall, with the grand opening slated for late winter 2013. In tandem, Trouser House has an equally ambitious line-up of exhibitions, events, and programs for the new space. You can stay updated on the progress of the renovation and upcoming events by following us on the Trouser House facebook page and subscribing to the Trouser House website (the subscription tab is on the right hand panel of the home page).
Local communities, local schools
A student at Marrero Middle School harvests carrots grown as part of the Spring semester Permaculture class.
The Trouser House education initiative, carried out in conjunction with Young Audiences of Louisiana has drawn to a close for the 2012 school year. Students in the Permaculture program experienced a fruitful spring harvest–pulling carrots, beets, squash, snap and pole beans from their garden. This semester, students launched a vermicomposting program that has produced some of the finest worm castings this side of the Mississippi. And, finally, several of the students have perfected their pickling skills, submerging everything from carrots to beets to green beans in vinegar, spices, and salt.
Summer programming will commence in June and educators can expect the launch of the new Trouser House curriculum portal just in time for fall semester planning. As always, I am available to teachers and administrators that would like more information on permaculture classes and lesson plans. Feel free to email me for education information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking forward, I plan to increase education efforts, both in the city and at Black Sheep Acres. In New Orleans, I hope to focus education efforts on the schools surrounding the future location of the Trouser House gallery, including KIPP Academy (Frederick Douglas High School), Arise Academy, and Drew Elementary. Again, I am always interested and available to educators and community members with experience and enthusiasm for the implementation of sustainable programs at these schools. Please don’t hesitate to contact me.
The Walnut Shell
So, that’s it…in a rather large nutshell. 2012 has been a plentiful year for the development of Trouser House and Black Sheep Acres and I am grateful to everyone that has generously provided their time, money, and general good will to the project. If you are interested in becoming involved with the continued growth of Trouser House and Black Sheep Acres in any way, please contact me by mail, phone, carrier pigeon, or St. Bernard and please continue to visit our various interweb resources to get updates on Black Sheep Acres and Trouser House. I close with a short excerpt from my journal, written on December 2, 2011, two days after the closing of Trouser House on St. Claude and Mazant. Looking back, I recognize the importance of letting go. But letting go is not always easy. I hope these words will be helpful for anyone feeling strained in New Orleans and elsewhere–they are meant to inspire and invigorate…
I live in the mouth of the Mississippi.
With an oyster’s grip, I bubble through loamy undertow.
Above ground, I walk atop buckled sidewalks and reside in leaning structures. The ghost of Tennessee Williams whispers in my ear and I follow the tracks of the usurped Houma Indian. Perched in the jaws of the mighty river, I have drowned, built an ark, and learned to row with toothpicks.
Artist Chad Spicer at Black Sheep Farm
Special thanks to the following people who have devoted countless hours, support, and resources to the project since December 2011 (from infinity, and beyond!): James Taylor, Mary Ellen Burns, Christopher Brown, Roger Ruiz, Steve Soltis, Chad Spicer, Joann Amlin, Danny Jones, Tristen Amlin-Jones, Maurice Slaughter, Martha Maloney, Wendy Morrison, and Liz Morrison. None of this is possible without you…